The condition of the roads in Morehouse Parish has been brought under fire in recent months, with little consideration of just what it takes to maintain and repair parish roads. While there is no question as to the state of disrepair of the 600 miles of roads falling under the responsibility of the Morehouse Parish Police Jury, the resolution of the problem is not so clear.
The cost of repairing roads is much less costly if the damage is small, but the bigger the pothole, the bigger the bill for repairs. Once the damage reaches a certain point, a (relatively) simple repair is no longer an option and the road will need to be repaved. And the cost of repaving the roads in Morehouse Parish is high. To completely overlay the existing road with asphalt costs the parish $400,000 to $500,000 per mile. The cost per mile to convert a road from gravel to asphalt is approximately $300,000 per mile.
In the 1960s, the federal government helped to fund the overlay of asphalt on the gravel roads across rural America. While this was a great development at the time, Morehouse Parish was not prepared for the costs of maintenance and repair of those roads once federal funding ceased. In addition to the breakdown of materials over time, the increase in the volume and weight of vehicles, including farm equipment, has caused a large increase in the originally estimated cost of maintenance and repairs to the parish roads.
The police jury receives funding for road repairs from three separate sources. First, there is a one-half cent sales tax designated as road tax which is only collected from within Bonita, Collinston and Mer Rouge. Second, there is a 5.58 mils property tax designated to parish roads, and finally there is a Louisiana state fund that provides various funds that go toward roads. In 2017, the total revenue received from these sources was 1.217 million dollars.
Since the bulk of the funding comes from property taxes, there is an overwhelming opinion that the road funds should be sufficient for maintenance and repairs. However, if you consider that only property owners pay this tax, and then only on the portion of their property value above any homestead exemption, which is $75,000, is taxed, the pool of dollars decreases drastically.
For example, a home in Mer Rouge with a value of $100,000 which qualifies for homestead exemption would have a total tax of $347.21, of which only $13.95 is collected for parish road maintenance. Without the homestead exemption, the total tax would be $754.50 and the parish road maintenance tax collected would be $55.80. In addition to the parish road tax, Mer Rouge collects a road tax which would equal $37.60 on the same tax bill. Each tax district will be slightly different, but this example gives an idea of the tax dollars collected through property taxes.
The police jury budget and spending are reviewed annually, and to date, the Morehouse Parish police jury has not been written up for any missing or misappropriation of funds. The police jury meetings and records are open to the public and citizens with questions or concerns are encouraged to attend meetings and have their concerns addressed.